The Denver Post
Hate can't fill love's voidJune 3, 1996
& The West
Nathan Dunlap finally cracked. The man who coldly killed four
people in the Dec. 14, 1993, robbery of a Denver Chuck E Cheese's
restaurant had sat impassively throughout his trial.
the formal sentencing May 17, however, an accusation by one of the
victim's brothers that the murders had been racially motivated set
Dunlap off. Dunlap, who is black (all four victims were white),
launched into a tirade, yelling that race wasn't the issue. He then
segued into a verbal assault on those affected by the murders who
had assembled to address the court and recommend the death penalty.
Well aware that, at the end of the day's events, he would hear
himself sentenced to die by lethal injection, Dunlap was clearly
worn thin. "I don't understand what you guys want," he said. "You
got my life already; so let's go."
Add "bright" to the list
of things Nathan Dunlap isn't.
What the families and friends
of the victims want couldn't be more simple, obvious or just: They
want Dunlap's arms and legs ripped off. They want Nathan Dunlap to
be bashed repeatedly in the head with a tire iron. They want to see
him lowered into a pit of alligators. They want Nathan Dunlap to
suffer. They want him to know pain. They want vengeance.
vengeance, however, isn't thought of highly in our criminal justice
system, so those angry at Dunlap had but one means to affect him: a
sorrowful or angry speech directed at his vacant visage during the
sentencing. Though Dunlap's outburst was nasty, brutish and short,
his living victims must have found at least superficial satisfaction
in knowing he could be reached, if only for a moment. Victims of
Colin Ferguson, who killed six people aboard a New York commuter
train just a week before Dunlap's rampage, had no such comfort;
Ferguson sat impartially though repeated scathing attacks before
getting his ticket to life in prison. Two people accused of
slaughtering five innocents in a March video store hold-up in
Albuquerque, if found guilty, also will face those robbed of loved
ones. In that particular crime, I knew, firsthand, the value of one
of the lives so viciously discarded.
Thus I know that the
anger at Dunlap is as much due to his audacity as his violence.
After all, the first reaction upon hearing of the violent death of a
loved one is fear - fear that the report might actually be true and,
as the paralyzing confirmation surfaces, fear that death could have
acted so suddenly, so brazenly and so directly.
To those left
in the aftermath of such a shattering crime, death seems like a god,
stalking darkened alleys and highways, moving deliberately and
stealthily, and striking with terrifying precision. A dark force has
extinguished a confidant, a trusted friend, and as the criminal
remains at large, that force seems to grow larger, more fearsome and
Imagine, then, the emotions of the
victims' families when the Chuck E Cheese's killer was apprehended
and unveiled - playing the part of God that fateful night was not
some fearsome, all-powerful creature but a putrid little punk named
Nathan Dunlap. Denverites who have followed in Dunlap's infamous
footsteps have proven no more impressive: a fat, sniveling loser
named Albert Petrosky and a heavily armed control freak named Duncan
Cameron. To discover death in the guise of such mediocrity is
simultaneously a relief and a bitterly insulting
On Friday, the people who loved the Chuck E
Cheese victims faced death in the guise of Dunlap's unimpressive
form and tried to achieve closure. They could not reach Dunlap with
the same kind of violence he visited upon his victims, but they
could try to reach him with words. Amazingly, one succeeded.
Dunlap's composure soon returned, however, and the closure these
victims came to seek no doubt eluded them.
Some will continue
to hunt for that closure, tracking Dunlap's slow, tedious journey as
he inches year by year, appeal by appeal, from death row to the
actual killing chamber. Some seeking that closure will attend his
execution, thinking that watching the life drain from Dunlap's
insignificant limbs will be what they had wanted all along. Only
then, perhaps, they will discover that it was not.
families truly "want" from Dunlap is something he stole that can
never be returned. They could kill Dunlap 100,000 times and still
the debt would not be repaid.
They could torture him
incessantly, strip him of all dignity and execute his family in
front of his horrified eyes, and still the debt would not be repaid.
That's because what this killer ripped from them was love, and you
cannot fill a void of love with vengeance and hate - no matter how
long you persist and no matter how hard you try.
Bjordahl is editor of the Internet publication Zone Interactive
and co-creator of the Cafe Angst comic strip, which runs in The
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